You know you’re doing it wrong in the technology business if you’re doing it the way you always did it.
That’s not to disrespect tried and true business practices that many of the integration firms in attendance at the 2016 CI/Total Tech Summit have in place, but to challenge them to evolve.
Nothing was off limits during a session, “Fresh Perspectives,” with panelists Bill McIntosh of Synergy Media, Aaron McArdle of Zdi, Bruce Kaufmann of Human Circuit and Brock McGinnis of Westbury National.
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Moderator CI editor-at-large Craig MacCormack challenged the panel to discuss elements of running an integration business and the industry that are outdated and to identify next steps that will help companies keep pace with their customers’ needs.
Here are 14 points made by the panel that you need not agree with but you should at least consider:
1.) One thing that’s completely outdated about the AV integration industry is its lack of standards, McGinnis said.
2.) Many manufacturers’ current distribution models are a joke, according to McGinnis. “I hate our manufacturer distribution model,” he said, adding that he’d like to see the industry move toward certification-based selling. Right now, “they’ll see to anybody with a pulse.”
3.) While it’s essential to provide expertise to customers, the type of expertise integrators offer needs to evolve, said McArdle. “As technology improves it will take less expertise on the technology side and more expertise [on] how that technology affects the [customer],” he said, highlighting the value of providing system utilization data.
4.) Integrators should stop thinking about technology in terms or rooms and start thinking about the overall technology experience, McIntosh said. He described a project by Synergy Media’s consulting wing BrightTree Studios at Clemson University in which custom tailored video content follows tour guides as they walk along an area adorned with video walls.
5.) The concept of future-proof technology is comical, according to Kaufmann. “We have to realize that things are moving so fast,” he said. McIntosh agreed. “Forget about future proofing, but don’t forget about the future.” He said integrators are too focused on “getting a little extra revenue out of a customer” by selling them something than they are letting them know about the life cycle of the technology they’re procuring.
6.) You can’t let your customers think of technology and toilets similarly, according to McGinnis. He described customers that purchase technology and then, like with a toilet, only want to engage with somebody when it needs fixing and never have to replace it. However, he added, “if your AV system is any older than the laptop in front of you, you’re going to have a problem. So as you refresh your laptops, replace your AV systems.”
7.) The way to “future-proof” is to establish standards, according to McArdle. He explained that Zdi is focused on creating simple, repeatable rooms for its customers and that it generally stays away from projects that aren’t repeatable. “We talk about documenting projects and creating standards and that’s our future-proofing.”
8.) Workplace technology needs to be as simple as home technology, according to Kaufmann. “We have to get a hold of the fact that what we do at home, the way we live our lives need to be brought into the workplace. It doesn’t need to be infinitely complicated.” McIntosh added that customers accustomed to easily using Skype or Google Hangout are baffled at the idea of having to find an IP address to make a Polycom call. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that integrators should provide customers with access to the technology they feel comfortable using. “Don’t think of it as providing a solution. Think of it as providing a canvas. But you have to set expectations.” In other words, integrators can include the Apple TV a customer wants to use in a system but make them understand the pluses and minuses of using a consumer-grade, relatively inexpensive product.
9.) Integration firms are perceived as a commodity, explained McIntosh. The industry conversation is usually about the equipment becoming commoditized, but he emphasized that customers see integrators the same way. “Our responsibility is to differentiate ourselves. That could be by providing data, could be with quicker response times,” he said. “Whatever it is it’s your responsibility to find it out and let them know. If you can’t, I’d take lower cost, too.”